I recently went to a book release at Bergen’s public library to learn about the new publications from local comics publisher Überpress and brought one of them home: Haugson, written and drawn by Ola Olsen Lysgaard.
Lysgaard has created an adventure comic inspired by Norwegian folklore and fairy tales. Elements include the simple country hero, tall majestic mountains, kings and castles, witches, giants, goblins and gnomes. All common elements, but Lysgaard adds some originality to the narration. After trying out different art styles for his new comic, he eventually went for something inspired by Mike Mignola’s Hellboy, with his use of circular and angular shapes, and the way things are defined by large shadowed area more than anything else. But the most distinct thing about Haugson is, of course, that it’s silent.
And I’ll admit that this is also one of the reasons why I’m reviewing it on my English language blog. A silent comic needs no translator, and can be exported to the foreign market more easily. Which isn’t to say that silent comics are easy to do. Not only as the writer/artist’s premise, but also because of the psychological aspect. In many ways, this format demands more concentration from the readers, when they don’t have the words to “lead” them through the story. The readers might also feel subconsciously “cheated” because they feel they are not getting enough reading material, not their money’s worth.
Fortunately, Lysgaard is a skilled narrator, also without any words, and for a silent comic, Haugson is rather complex. Lysgaard toys with the expectations of the readers, breaks with conventions, and seems to enjoy surprising the readers – A little. Not much, and not to invoke originality, but because he sees how he can improve the story by making little twists. The difference between good and evil is clear, but there are some grey areas; not everyone and everything are as they first appear. Lysgaard takes his time in building up the story, and likes to add details that may seem insignificant at the time, but which turns out to be important to the comic as a whole – For instance, he spends two pages on a scene where a young boy tries to make a guardsman aware of impending danger.
Rather coquettishly, the book starts with chapter two. The comic would have worked well without this arrangement, but it has the advantage that it piques the reader’s curiosity as well as quickly setting Haugson into a more expanded universe.